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2022: The year of the entrepreneur | Iowa entrepreneurs share their stories, advice

Two Iowans share their journeys to becoming their own CEOs and turning their passions into careers.

DES MOINES, Iowa — We've all heard the expression "don't quit your day job," but more and more Americans are ignoring that advice. From layoffs during the pandemic to what's been dubbed the "Great Resignation," we're seeing a shift in the labor force. 

Austin MacNab, the CEO of Waukee-based VizyPay, saw this as an opportunity when the pandemic first struck, seizing on the chance to recruit workers who were ready for a change.

"That allowed us to be the number one fastest-growing company in our state of Iowa... allowed us to be 45th in the USA," MacNab said. "Allowed us to do a lot of things through a simple pivot."

VizyPay is a fintech company looking to disrupt credit card processing by eliminating or greatly reducing processing fees for small businesses. It also seeks to elevate small businesses with a "Look Local First" initiative. 

MacNab started the company in 2017 with no employees, but it's now grown to 70 employees on site. VizyPay has sales partners are in all 50 states and are independent contractors, essentially entrepreneurs themselves. MacNab says he predicted the pandemic would lead to a big shift in how Americans make a living.

"I think COVID and what's happened is going to cause the most entrepreneurship we have seen in decades," he said. "Because people are like you know what? I don't want to do this anymore and I want to go figure it out and be an entrepreneur and they're going to do it because they can."

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The pandemic also provided an opportunity for Cua Vang. As a student at East High School in Des Moines, Vang already had a growing baking business. Then lockdown hit, giving her more free time for it. That's when she had a revelation.

"I did it for my family and friends first," Vang said. "And once I realized that people actually wanted me to start baking for them, that's when I realized maybe I could do this as a business." 

Cua's Keki is now a thriving company with a growing social media presence.

A national expert on entrepreneurship said more people like MacNab and Vang will emerge from the pandemic, and that will be critical for the American economy. 

"Entrepreneurship has always been central to our economy and will continue to be central as we recover from COVID." said Dr. JD LaRock, the CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). "Most people think of the big corporations that have such a big presence in our lives. But the reality is, big as they are, they actually don't drive the majority of economic activity in the nation. Small businesses on Main Street do."

NFTE is a global non-profit focused on bringing the power of entrepreneurship to low-income youth and underserved communities. LaRock says entrepreneurship is the key to equitable post-pandemic recovery and is the fastest route to economic growth, job creation and inclusive capitalism. He also sees a big opportunity this year. 

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"I think many more people are thinking about how to connect with a passion of theirs and turn that into a business and also create a better work experience for themselves and for others," LaRock said.

LaRock says making an impact on others is the key to successful entrepreneurship. He encourages people to reach out to NFTE and take advantage of resources like the Small Business Administration's website.

And Iowa's homegrown CEOs have some advice of their own.

"Find your niche and stick to it," Vang said. "See what makes you special in your community and what you have that makes you different."

She adds discipline is important and recommends always investing profits back into the company.

As he sets out to disrupt an industry that has done things the same way for decades, MacNab says he cheers on hopeful entrepreneurs, but being hopeful isn't enough.

"You've got to think about it," he said. "You don't just wake up one day and say 'I hate my job. I'm gonna quit.' Have a plan. Think about what you are going to do  and then plan accordingly." 

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